It was a familiar story for 2020: Dell Technologies Match Play, the Austin-based PGA Tour golf tournament that features 64 of the PGA’s top players, was canceled just 13 days before tee-off. So in 2021, organizers were determined to make it work—safely, of course.
To pull off a completely reimagined 2021 experience, which took place March 24-28 at the Austin Country Club, Dell Technologies worked closely with the PGA Tour team and Lacy Maxwell Experiential, the Northern California-based production team that has been handling the event since 2015.
"As with the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic challenged us to find a new vision for the event,” said Lacy Maxwell, the company’s founder and CEO. “We learned to be nimble and flexible. We learned to have plans A, B, C, D, E and F running simultaneously as the world changed in front of our eyes.”
The teams took the dramatic step of reducing spectator capacity by 80%. But those lucky enough to score a ticket experienced a number of smart safety features, including a new open-air structure design, contactless entry, touchless food service, enhanced cleaning protocols and plenty of social distancing. Maxwell noted that organizers also leaned on technology to ensure fans and clients would feel—and be—safe.
“There was an aura of uneasiness associated with fans being reintroduced to gathering in a hospitality space, and it was our responsibility to ease that tension,” she said. “We believe in the power and importance of a smile and human interaction, but were able to use technology to allow guests to order food, drinks, merchandise and gifting through an app which provided contact-free service as part of their experience.”
Maxwell also noted that clients and fans enjoyed the new open-air structure approach, which allowed them to enjoy the Austin weather and feel more connected to the competition. “This experience is something we will definitely bring to our hospitality in the future, even if it means a couple of wayward golf shots ending up in our guests’ lunch (true story!),” she laughed.
Ultimately, Maxwell added, the biggest challenge of producing the event was dealing with the unknown and navigating rapidly changing policies—which meant organizers were working through multiple contingency plans simultaneously. “This was challenging, but helped us reimagine future elements of our industry. Dell Technologies Match Play was our first large-scale event in more than a year, so we had to shake some of the rust off and get back into the groove of being together while hosting under new conditions,” she said.
As for the biggest reward? “We were extremely happy to finish the event with a flawless safety record,” Maxwell said, adding, “There is something special about that final day, when the sun sets over the 360 Bridge and the gates close for the last time. During this moment all of the team members are congratulating each other, from executives, to security, golfers and caddies. Everyone recognizes that we pulled it off—together. We live for these moments.”
So, what lessons did the team learn that they’ll carry over to future, in-person events? Expect the unexpected—and be ready to adapt, Maxwell noted. What’s more, “We have learned that as a society, we took human interaction for granted. It was invigorating to get back into our element and to help people connect safely in-person. The biggest takeaway was hearing how much people missed events like the Dell Technologies Match Play; it was so rewarding to play a role in making this happen.”
Top Photo: Courtesy of Lacy Maxwell Experiential